Throughout my career, I have always believed in youthfulness to drive a point. The world is moving so fast that requires fresh brains to take it to the next step.
At just 30 years old in 2005, when I vied for the SC Villa presidency [I was the club’s fans’ coordinator], I had the backing of the fans and the youthful administrators, but some senior administrators opposed me. Years later, it became evident the ’veterans’ had made a grave mistake when the club sank into an abyss, and in 2014, I won the trust of every Villa faithful to take the club forward.
In those four years I led the club, I turned it from mere league participants to serial trophy contenders. Part of my strategy to elevate Ugandan football was to advocate for progressive young minds in key positions in the game. In the course of my Villa tenure, one of the people I identified as a progressive leader was Deo Arinaitwe Rugyendo, a hands-on figure I had met in the media industry.
He was the brains behind the fast-rising Saints FC. Rugyendo is one of those rare breeds with whom you would have a chat at 3am when the rest of the world is asleep and he would have an answer before the country woke up. I never doubted his competence.
In fact, I was the architect of his ascension to the Uganda Premier League (UPL) board leadership in 2015. His active participation in football administration convinced me he was going to turn around the fortunes of domestic football.
However, eight years down the road, Rugyendo has not only fallen short of my expectations and those of the UPL, but he has degenerated into a Fufa yes-man, a disreputable title I have always reserved for Fufa’s growing list of sycophants.
Mark my words, Rugyendo is not a sycophant, but he is trapped in a situation of sheer survival. The UPL is enduring an all-time low in terms of following and fan base, yet last week, Rugyendo was reelected unopposed for another four years as the UPL board chairperson, along with the same protagonists he has had along for the past eight years, save for clout-chasing Martin Sekajja, who replaced Peter Kibazo.
In all this, the question is: can the UPL board turn around the fortunes of the country’s top-flight league after all these years at the helm? Are they a bunch out to milk whatever they can from the UPL clubs? Do they have the potential to attract new sponsors? Can they get out of the Fufa shackles?
Well, there are many other questions surrounding the decline of the UPL. First things first, I brought on board title sponsor StarTimes in 2018, but I am astounded to see that no major sponsor has since joined the UPL. This is a damning indictment on the UPL board because the plan was to have at least five more sponsors in five years time.
I cannot conclusively say Rugyendo has let UPL down because I believe in his potential, but he has been gagged to act on the whims of Fufa, which has veto powers on every decision his board makes. If only he gets a free hand to do his job, I believe he can turn around our domestic football.
And that starts with learning about the best practices of professional leagues around the world, whose ethos revolves around quality and quantity.
For instance, is there any player the UPL has produced over the last decade who matches continental standards?
Even the efforts of Vipers and KCCA to reach the group stage of Caf’s premier tournament were achieved at the expense of UPL; still, they couldn’t go beyond that level. In all this, the struggling UPL is just a reflection of our struggles as a nation because the UPL is the foundation for The Cranes, and there is hardly any player in recent years who has broken through the UPL ranks to The Cranes.
All the best players UPL has produced end up going abroad for better deals only to return home after a few months after being found below par in terms of professionalism.
Going forward, Rugyendo has an uphill task to reform UPL and I believe it all starts with the technical side by getting coaches refresher courses. Football is not managed on the pitch alone for results, but the real work is behind the scenes, where you need to engage stakeholders to provide corporate and social responsibility activations.
The UPL board should think beyond the StarTimes sponsorship package and find ways to create new partnerships. So, the reappointment is an opportunity for Rugyendo to redeem himself and turn around the body’s fortunes that have been stifled by a Fufa administration out to outsmart them.
The author is SC Villa first vice president in charge of mobilization